Wisconsin reports increase in senior abuse

Reports of elder abuse increased by 3.6 percent in 2003, according to a report released by the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services.

In Wisconsin, a total of 3,853 suspected cases of abuse were reported statewide in 2003, including 16 fatalities. Among the reports of investigations were 357 situations considered life threatening.

"The number of cases of abuse reported to local authorities continues to increase," said Helene Nelson, DHFS Secretary. "From 1986 (the first year reports were collected) until 2003, county reports of elder abuse have increased an average of 11.8 percent per year," Nelson added.

Nelson said that the Department appreciated people’s willingness to report incidents of elder abuse. "It is intolerable that older persons are abused – whether by a family member, a caretaker, or a stranger. It is also troubling to learn of the number of cases of self neglect among seniors. We must all work to help ensure the safety of our seniors."

State law requires each county to provide a publicized phone number to receive reports of suspected elder abuse for investigation and reporting purposes. The law requires prompt investigation of all reported cases of abuse or neglect.

Nelson said that improved communication among law enforcement and health and social service agencies leads to more people recognizing signs of abuse. Indicators of physical abuse include vague explanations given to account for fractures, welts, bruises and burns.

In situations of financial exploitation (called material abuse), warning signs include an older person's lack of knowledge concerning finances, or inability to explain loss of assets. "In situations of self-neglect, signs of malnutrition, dehydration, excessive dirt or odors can all be 'red flags'," said Jane Raymond, State Elder Abuse Program Specialist. "Agitation, anxiety or panic attacks are sometimes signs of emotional abuse," she added.

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